Ephesians 5:15-20 CEB
So be careful to live your life wisely, not foolishly. Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times. Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will. Don’t get drunk on wine, which produces depravity. Instead, be filled with the Spirit in the following ways: speak to each other with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; sing and make music to the Lord in your hearts; always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;
I know we’re only in August, but I would like to talk about Thanksgiving. Now, I know we still have some time before Fall and before many of us gather with friends and family for the holiday season to share tons of tasty food. More importantly, many of us have made it a practice to share what we are grateful for on this day of thanks. The great shame is that for many we only make a point of giving thanks on this one holiday. The rest of the year, we can get caught up in all the bad things in this world and lose sight of all the good things God puts in our lives. Ephesians reminds us an attitude of gratitude is an essential practice for the body of Christ to cultivate. When we are mindful of what we should be thankful and joyful for in our hearts, we open ourselves to God’s invitation to transform ourselves and the world.
If the writer of the letter of Ephesians had their way, we would be celebrating Thanksgiving all year long to better imitate Christ. Both the scripture lesson from last week and the lesson this week reiterates how wise and life giving it is to follow Jesus. We draw closer to God when we imitate Christ and stop behaving in ways that are not found in following Jesus, for that draws us further from God. Our faith cannot be separated from our lives, Christ’s example is to shine through in how we live with each other and interact with the world. Like Christ then, one of the wisest things we could do is give thanks to our God. Not just on one holiday and not just this Sunday, instead we need to give thanks in the good times and the bad. This is not to make light of when bad things happen, but it is a reminder that our center should always be a place of gratitude.
Looking back at our own history of celebrating Thanksgiving, we see how essential sharing gratitude, especially in bad times, is to keep us open to God. Back in the mid-19th century, before Thanksgiving became the holiday we all celebrate, President Abraham Lincoln set the first national day of giving thanks in 1863 in the midst of the Civil War. In the midst of sorrow and suffering, the President called for a day to remember how richly God continued to bless the country even in the middle of such tragic times. Thanksgiving became a national holiday and a yearly reminder that we must give thanks. Even in our own faith story, Christ still praised God in the darkest of times, even from the cross. There Jesus says, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Which at first doesn’t really sound thankful until we remember that it is believed that not only is Jesus quoting Psalm 22, but he probably recited the whole psalm as a prayer while on the cross. The psalm, uttered by Christ while he hangs dying, says in verse 22, “I will declare [God’s] name to my brothers and sisters; I will praise you [God] in the very center of the congregation.” Even at this point of pain and death, Christ continues to give thanks, so continues to encounter God from the cross. We are reminded that with the praise of God on our lips and with joy and thanks in our hearts, we will always find God moving in our lives no matter how good or bad the times are.
Friends, I think we need to hear this today because it is all too easy to become consumed by the evil around us. Ephesians acknowledges that the days are evil, and I’m sure we could go around this room today and each of us could name any number of ways we see evil in this world. The truth is however that all people across all times could and did say the same, so this time is no more or less evil than any other. There is always evil, and we are always at risk of focusing so much on evil that we lose sight of the opportunities that God places in our lives. We can get caught up in complaining about how bad things are and who is at fault. That’s not the way! Look again at our scripture reading this morning, as it says “Take advantage of every opportunity because these are evil times.” It continues, “Because of this, don’t be ignorant, but understand the Lord’s will.” What it is saying is that there is an urgency to our times. There may be evil times around us, but there is also transformation at the hands of our Lord. We are not blind to what God is doing in this world, so we cannot let evil blind us to what we are to do and who we are to imitate! Turning back to scripture, I am struck by the next verse that tells us not to get drunk on wine. At first it seems out of place, but it actually is a perfect description of what happens when complaining and focusing on evil overwhelms us. Thinking back to my school days, I remember when our health teacher made us wear drunk goggles. How many folks have ever experienced those? They distort the world like you were intoxicated. You can’t see and you can’t walk. You are so focused on not falling down that you cannot even look ahead to where you are going. It is the same with evil, it can make us drunk so that we cannot see beyond ourselves. When this happens, evil wins because by getting caught up in the bad things of the world, we stop being able to see our God and our neighbor. We become so focused on avoiding evil, avoiding the harm that comes with those bad things that we become closed off! We turn inward, and we stumble through life, not able to transform the world because we ourselves have failed to be transformed!
Do you want to transform this world? Do you want to build God’s kingdom? Do you want to see love and grace poured generously into the lives of others by the will of God through our actions? My friends, what keeps us from losing sight of God is thankfulness. This is how our scripture comes full circle this morning! When we sing out our praises to God in worship as Ephesians reminds us to do, we are singing out thanks to God! When we sing out praises for each other, we are giving thanks to God for the ways God is working through all of us! When we remember to celebrate the Thanksgiving spirit beyond the one day in November, we keep our center of gratitude and joy strong. Being thankful and expressing gratitude to God and neighbor keeps us open to God. That’s what Ephesians is reminding us of this morning. When we give thanks to God for everything, we have to look outside ourselves to find those causes for praise! At that moment, we will be filled with the Spirit of God! It is the opposite of getting drunk on the evil of this world. The one turns us inward so that we lose sight of anyone or anything besides ourselves. We lose sight of the opportunities for transforming this world God is pushing us toward. The other turns us outward to be filled with the Spirit and draws us closer to Christ and closer to our friends and neighbors!
I think that is the takeaway this morning, when we give thanks, not only are we doing the work of looking for things to be grateful for, but we are also doing the work of keeping ourselves open to God. This in turn readies us to do God’s work in the world. Look at your neighbor this morning. Look to one side and to the other. Who do you see? Stop and think, how are you grateful for them today? Have you thanked them recently? Have you told them that you are grateful for all that they do in your life and in this community? My friends this is not just a polite or nice thing you are doing, for Ephesians reminds us that this is good and Godly work. This will move us all into a center where we will find gratitude and joy. That is transforming work! It is the place that we will move from to transform this world! Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman